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Quinn, Anthony - 'Disappeared'
Trade Paperback: 272 pages (Aug. 2014) Publisher: Head of Zeus ISBN: 1781858594

The flow of thorns intensified, scratching the air like the noise of a scythe being sharpened. The stranger's face seemed to wilt under the deluge. He fell back and his body was suddenly swept away like a black blanket into the howling air.

January, Washing Bay, Lough Neagh, N. Ireland.
His mind barely numbed by the sleeping pills, David Hughes fills the kettle at the kitchen sink and notices the stranger standing under the oak tree, waving and signalling. He puts on his coat, steps out into the howling wind and walks up to the waving man. He cannot be who Hughes thinks he is? A man long dead? The stranger says that he will not make any more bombs for the IRA and gives Hughes the battery that he is holding. He tells Hughes to solve the mystery of his disappearance, then falls back into the wind.

February, Coney Island, Lough Neagh.
Joseph Devine is hunkered down in a bird hide watching the opposite shore line and the empty cottage. Joseph has been looking over his shoulder for pursuers since his teens, now here he is - an old spy still spying, this time on the men who want to kill him. A duck's cry wakes him from a brief sleep. He looks out of the hide entrance, sees movement in the reeds. Too late. The blow falls on to his face. After that the blows and torment continue. It is all over for Devine by dawn. Just the sounds of the crows.

The home of Celcius Daly's father, Lough Neagh, 3 am.
The officer on duty in Armagh thinks Celcius should know that a woman has rung in from Washing Bay claiming that her elderly brother has been kidnapped. The missing man's name is David Hughes and he suffers from Alzheimer's. At their cottage, Daly sees that the back door's lock has been shattered. The brother's medication and some clothes are missing. The sister tells Daly that they were being watched, she found a hole cut in to the hedge, cigarette butts on the ground. When Daly himself goes searching the hedges he stumbles upon a shrine of objects hung from the branches, news-cuttings spiked on thorns, and three small mounds of earth - miniature graves complete with markers, names and dates from the late 1980s. The sister calls them "David's demented games."

Meanwhile a parish priest receives the phone call that there is a body for him, in a tree on Coney Island. Wearily he collects his oils and prayer book and steps out into the early morning...

DISAPPEARED is Irish author and journalist Anthony Quinn's first novel. Published in the US in 2011, 2013 sees its publication in the UK. Quinn, born in Northern Ireland's County Tyrone, says that it was his own family's experience during the Troubles - the feeling of "walking a tightrope with the IRA at one end and the British Army and Protestant paramilitaries on the other" - alongside interviews with the families of Ireland's "Disappeared" (those murdered by paramilitaries and whose bodies have never been found) that inspired him to write this book.

In DISAPPEARED, Police Inspector Celcius Daly is back in Northern Ireland after some years in Glasgow. Trailing a broken marriage, he is staying in his dead father's cottage near Lough Neagh when he is handed two investigations: the disappearance of David Hughes, a retired Special Branch officer suffering from Alzheimer's, and the brutal death of Joseph Devine, a one-time spy for the British. Celcius is also drawn into the mystery of another man's disappearance some twenty years before. Supposedly killed by the IRA, this man's body was never found. He had become one of Ireland's "Disappeared" with that stigma and unresolved grief still marking his family.

Drenched in wind, rain and darkness, this book has the terrific atmosphere of a Gothic horror story (which perhaps it is). It is set in a rural landscape of wintry thorn hedges, fields and crumbling cottages - a rural landscape now inhabited by the elderly and their secrets. The disappeared of the present mingle with the disappeared of the past in a story of informers, handlers, executioners and extortionists. As with many other crime writers, Quinn implies a manipulative secret police service which, alongside corruption in contemporary politics, also takes a hand in the proceedings. The book's distinguishing strength is its mysterious darkness bordering on the supernatural shot through with an ingenious blend of dementia and deception. Other Irish writers blend the supernatural with modern crime - think the earlier novels in Stuart Neville's "Jack Lennon" series through to the full-on horror of John Connolly's "Charlie Parker" books. With Anthony Quinn having already written a second Celcius Daly novel I hope we will be able to watch for a distinctive new voice emerging in contemporary Northern Irish crime fiction.

Read another review of DISAPPEARED.

Lynn Harvey, England
January 2015

Lynn blogs at Little Grey Doll.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 25/04/2015 16:57